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Muslim Congressmen Fail To Stand Up Against Palestinian Massacre

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The US House of Representatives voted on January 9th on a resolution (H RES 34) aptly titled: “Recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” It was passed overwhelmingly by a vote of about 300-something to 5 (see the full voting record). The text of the resolution basically says that Israel can defend itself, it recognizes Israel for facilitating humanitarian aid to Gaza, and states the ultimate goal of the US is the continued existence of a democratic Jewish state. It also says Congress will work towards a cease-fire.

While some souls in Congress were brave enough to speak out against this resolution, such as Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, our two Muslim Congressmen failed to even show symbolic support for their Muslim brothers who are victims of a genocide being carried out by the Zionist state.

Andre Carson from Indiana, actually voted in favor of the resolution. Words cannot even begin to describe how that feels, but betrayal is one that comes to mind. Keith Ellison refused to take a position, simply voting “present” and thus neither affirming nor negating the resolution. Surely, they have some explanation for what they said right?!

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Keith Ellison’s comments simply provided a lot of double-speak and political maneuvering.

I cannot vote against this resolution because I believe every country in the world has the right to defend itself.

I have been to Sderot and I have seen first-hand both the physical and emotional destruction caused by the rocket attacks launched by Hamas.

Israeli citizens living near the Gaza border have been repeatedly harassed and live daily in fear. Hamas, a terrorist organization founded with the goal of destroying Israel, has launched more than 6,000 rockets and mortars into Israel since 2005.

Last fall I voted for a resolution specifically condemning these rocket attacks into Israel.

At the same time I cannot vote for this resolution because it barely mentions the human suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Over 750 people have been killed, including 250 children and 50 women, with over 3,000 people injured.

And even before the recent Israeli military operation, life for the people of Gaza had become increasingly unliveable — with shortages of food, fuel and basic medical supplies.

The 1.4 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip existed in a state of dreadful isolation, cut off from the world, often including the world’s media.

Earlier this year the people of Gaza broke through the walls separating Gaza and Egypt simply to purchase groceries.

We need to have compassion for the people of Gaza and the tremendous human suffering there.

That is why I will vote “present” on this resolution concerning the current conflict in Gaza.

History has shown that ground troops and air strikes have not resolved conflict in the Middle East. If we try to resolve conflict with military might and nothing else, then we will be no safer than we were before.

Diplomacy is necessary to save lives and yield a lasting peace with security.

The United States government, together with international partners, must play an active role in pursuing real peace with security in the Middle East.

Like a great politician, he said some of the right things about Gaza, and then failed to deliver. If he did indeed have compassion for the people of Gaza, he should have voted against the resolution and not “present,” thus refusing to take a stance. By voting “present” he simply undid any support he was trying to bring to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. For a system that teaches us the importance of every vote, and the significance of your voice, he showed the Muslim community some lip-service, but his actions in refusing to condemn the genocide in Gaza speak louder.

Perhaps it could be argued that the resolution does indeed have some truth to it. To anyone who makes even a cursory examination of the news though, they will see that the resolution itself is predicated upon a number of false precepts, chief amongst them is that Israel acted out of self-defense. A quick recap of some of the information pertinent to the resolution (please also see previous news roundup and comments for more):

  1. Israel broke the cease-fire, not Hamas. The invasion by Israel was planned months in advance. In fact, the Irish Times reported that no Israeli civilian or military member had been killed by any Hamas rocket from Gaza until December 27th, and that Israel quietly broke the cease-fire on November 4th (when we were busy with the election). This means the assumption of self-defense is no longer valid, to say the least.
  2. Support for a cease-fire is empty rhetoric. America refused to back a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire due to its special relationship with Israel.
  3. Israel has not facilitated humanitarian aid, but has in fact prevented it, and even targeted ambulances in its attacks.

These facts are not hidden from the public (in fact the articles here are all from non-Muslim media outlets), and definitely not hidden from America’s own politicians. Ron Paul, who voted against the resolution, made the following comments in Congress about this resolution (source):

The resolution clearly takes one side in a conflict that has nothing to do with the United States or U.S. interests. I am concerned that the weapons currently being used by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza are made in America and paid for by American taxpayers. What will adopting this resolution do to the perception of the United States in the Muslim and Arab world? What kind of blowback might we see from this? What moral responsibility do we have for the violence in Israel and Gaza after having provided so much military support to one side?

…I am appalled by the practice of lobbing homemade rockets into Israel from Gaza. I am only grateful that, because of the primitive nature of these weapons, there have been so few casualties among innocent Israelis. But I am also appalled by the long-standing Israeli blockade of Gaza – a cruel act of war – and the tremendous loss of life that has resulted from the latest Israeli attack that started last month.

There are now an estimated 700 dead Palestinians, most of whom are civilians. Many innocent children are among the dead. While the shooting of rockets into Israel is inexcusable, the violent actions of some people in Gaza does not justify killing Palestinians on this scale. Such collective punishment is immoral. At the very least, the U.S. Congress should not be loudly proclaiming its support for the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza.

…The resolution in fact will lead the U.S. to become further involved in this conflict, promising “vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Is it really in the interest of the United States to guarantee the survival of any foreign country? I believe it would be better to focus on the security and survival of the United States, the Constitution of which my colleagues and I swore to defend just this week at the beginning of the 111th Congress. I urge my colleagues to reject this resolution.

Congressman Kucinich also had some strong (and eye-opening) words about the situation,

In Gaza, the United Nations gave the Israeli army the coordinates of a UN school, and the school was then hit by Israeli tank fire, killing about forty. The UN put flags on emergency vehicles, coordinating the movements of those vehicles with the Israeli military, and the vehicles came under attack, killing emergency workers. The Israeli army evacuated 100 Palestinians to shelter, and then bombed the shelter, killing thirty people.

Emergency workers have been blocked by the Israeli army from reaching hundreds of injured persons. Today’s Washington Post: 100 survivors rescued in Gaza from roads blocked from Israelis. Relief agencies fear more are trapped, days after neighborhood was shelled. Today, the U.S. Congress is going to be asked to pass a resolution supporting Israel’s actions in Gaza. I’m hopeful that we don’t support the inhumanity that has been repeatedly expressed by the Israeli army. The U.S. abstained from a UN call for a ceasefire. We must take a new direction in the Middle East, and that new direction must be mindful of the inhumane conditions in Gaza.

So alhamdulillah, it does seem there are a few brave souls in Congress who see the reality of the situation. The question arises though – where were our Muslim congressmen?! Should our own brothers not be at the forefront in speaking out against this massacre? Speaking in support of their brothers and sisters who are falling victim to an act of oppression which is something no less than fully-fledged ethnic cleansing?

Andre Carson voted for the resolution. Meaning, he pledged his support for Israel and the furthering of their “Jewish Democratic” state through the invasion and genocide of innocent Muslims in Palestine.

Keith Ellison gave his implicit support for it, by refusing to speak against it. We are not asking him to change the world, but is it really too much to ask that as a Muslim, you have the courage to take a stand against a massacre of Muslims? Is it too much to ask that you at the least simply echo and support the statements made by some of your fellow Congressman? Do you seriously believe Israel was in the right?

It is troubling that a Muslim congressman can be so clueless about international politics. Does he really believe what he said about Israel? This is either deceit, or the height of ignorance – unacceptable either way for someone in this field, and representing the Muslim community of America. While it is true he was elected in Minnesota, he did raise funds from Muslim communities all over the country, making us believe this would make a positive difference and represent our interests.

Muslims in America have long been involved in trying to make their political voices heard. Various organizations have been set up that are very politically active, trying to influence policies in Washington. We have been told from early on that the only way to make a difference in society is to get involved. Even in regards to Gaza, some organizations who work to defend the civil liberties of American Muslims have been actively sending out emails encouraging Muslims in America to “write to their Congressman” or to hold rallies, or take some other form of civic duty in an attempt to “make your voice heard” and influence change. The fact that many of these organizations’ action items failed to include basic duties such as supplicating to Allah for our oppressed brethren is a side issue – but it shows the extent to which Muslims have bought into the ‘work with the system’ mentality.

This fight to get people to buy into working with the system gained a huge victory when Muslims proudly welcomed Keith Ellison as the first Muslim congressman. Finally! After all these baby steps, a small victory. A step in the right direction. Muslims were finally becoming “mainstream” in American society. Keith Ellison was even sworn in with the Quran instead of a Bible! We finally had someone who could represent our voices. He could speak on our behalf in important forums where we previously lacked any access.

The basic premise of Muslim involvement in these arenas predicated on the belief that we knew the system was wrong. We knew that there are many things in politics that go against our religious principles. But we have tried to take a mature stance at objectively analyzing what we can do to avert the greater evil in favor of the lesser one. Have many Muslims lost sight of that? Definitely. Many who were more enthusiastic were often given a free pass because of progress that was being made. After all, we had a Muslim in Congress now. We can make strides in defending the civil liberties of American Muslims.

It was in that vein that many of us remained silent, when our first Muslim Congressman was chosen to be the Vice chair of a Gay Rights Committee. We were uncomfortable with this as Islam’s stance on homosexuality is crystal clear. However, many tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and try to take a more ‘mature’ understanding that this was part of working with the system. He was making some compromises en route to achieving what we were hoping would ultimately be the greater good for the Muslim community.

Fast forward now to the recent crisis that began a few weeks ago. When it comes to Muslim issues, there is definitely a list of priorities. As a Muslim, I find it hard to place many things above an all out massacre of innocent civilians. While no one is naive enough to think that 2 Muslim congressmen will be able to put through a bill that will result in a sudden reversal of foreign policy, we do expect them to at least take a symbolic stand when afforded the opportunity.

Let’s make one thing clear: No one is denying that a Muslim congressman undoubtedly faces an undue amount of pressure, probably more than most other politicians – both within the Muslim community and the microscope outside of it.

The question that I have though, is at what point do we simply say that if this is the net result of working with the system, then it’s not worth it?

It is true that this one issue is sparking the debate, but it is a large issue, and one that comes on top of the blind eye that we turned to many other ‘smaller’ issues. It seems painfully obvious now to me, that this “system” is an utter failure. What happened here is only a proof against civic and political engagement for Muslims. I have been hearing the ‘dream’ of having a Muslim congressman since I was in high school. The dream has been achieved, but with no benefit to the Muslim community whatsoever. The hard work that has gone into this from all these organizations, all the money that was raised to fund these campaigns, all of it has been a farce. If they cannot even take a symbolic stance against a massacre of innocent civilians, then what good is there?

The entire debate of “voting for a lesser evil” in elections and other issues all become moot when even a Muslim in the arena cannot speak out against something like this.

Imam Ibnul-Qayyim said, ‘One of his (Shaytan) plots is that he always bewitches people’s mind until they are deceived. No one is saved from his sorcery except those whom Allah Wills. He makes attractive to the mind that which will harm it, until a person thinks of something as most beneficial, and he (Shaytan) discourages him from that which is the most beneficial, until he thinks that it will harm him. La ilaaha illAllah, how may people have been tempted by this sorcery!’ [Quoted from, ‘Aalam al-Jinn was-Shayateen by Umar S. Al-Ashqar].

What is even most perplexing is that we are not asking Ellison or Carson to do something unreasonable! Kucinich and Ron Paul’s comments were sadly much more Muslim than anything our own Muslims are capable of. Could Ellison not echo those same sentiments from his fellow colleagues?

If they cannot take even a symbolic stand against genocide, then there is really no hope for anything else after that.

It is seriously time that we re-evaluate our strategy on these issues. What is the real end game here? I do not disagree with the theory of making our voices and concerns heard, I am questioning the manner in which we do it, and the extreme to which we have gone. Is there benefit of working with a system in which Muslims, when finally making it to the stage, cannot stand up for what is important to us?

The Western Muslim society has slowly been getting more and more politically active (and savvy). While I do not discount political participation en masse, I feel that we have lost sight of what I understand to be our initial intention in getting involved – averting greater harms to our community.

What I have seen, however, is that this type of civic and political engagement has not become a last resort, or even a means to a greater end, but for many people it has simply become the ends. Our duty as Muslims is to do what is in our power. If you cannot change it with your hand, change it with your tongue, and if not with your tongue, then know it is wrong in your heart. If we are falling short in making tahajjud and praying for them in our sujood, if we are falling short in making dua for them in each salah, if we are falling short in helping them financially, if we are falling short in doing those things which make our supplications answered, if we are falling short in educating people, and falling short in establishing true Islam in our own houses – then I believe we have no business getting involved in a process that should in reality be our last resort.

This is not a call for complete disengagement, nor is it a call for sitting idly by. Politics is not the only vehicle through which society can be changed. We can increase our presence in the media, we can increase the dissemination of information on issues that affect us. We can still raise public awareness about the atrocities being committed. And in fact, we have to, because if there is one lesson in this – it is that no one else will do it for us.

As for those who believe that this stance is too harsh, and that trashing the system is ‘throwing the baby out with the bath-water’ – then I say this. If you still believe that this engagement is the proper course of action, then I ask what could have possibly motivated these Congressmen to favor Israel (one explicitly, and one implicitly)?

If it is really a case of “bad apples” and not a shortcoming with the system, then I challenge you and all the politically active Muslim organizations who backed Ellison with this: Send out emails on your email lists expressing your disapproval of what they did, in the same way that you previously encouraged people to support them. If you are a true believer in “writing your Congressman” and civic engagement – then write to Ellison, and these Muslim organizations. Let them know that you will not only refuse to re-elect them, but you will campaign against them because of this travesty.

Check out Keith Ellison at a Pro-Palestine rally just a few days before voting on the resolution. If you missed what the crowd is going crazy at, it’s when he said, “I am not here to condemn anyone.” Ironically, the last part of the video contains a talk by a Jewish professor who did have the fortitude to condemn the Zionist state.

[youtube QjagbIZzNcw]

Feel free to send this to your Congressman, or stick it on your placard at the next rally. As for me, my heart is too sad to think of anything other than this deep sense of loss in this time of crisis. May Allah(swt) give the Muslims victory over their oppressors, and grant the families there patience, and grant them all Jannatul Firdaws, and may He forgive our shortcomings.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters and Qalam Institute. He teaches Islamic seminars across the US including Khateeb Workshop and Fiqh of Social Media. He has served in varying administrative capacities for multiple national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow his work at ibnabeeomar.com.

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